ProTour riders plus a handful of domestic riders filter to the top
By Ben Delaney
Like most stage races, the overall at the Amgen Tour of California boils down to who can climb and time trial. With only a 2.1-mile prologue and a single Cat. 3 climb ridden thus far, the major players are already moving forward, indicating who has the suds for the 15-mile stage 5 time trial and the big climbs on stage 3.
As defending champion and the fastest of the likely GC contenders in the prologue, Astana’s Levi Leipheimer is the clear favorite. He sits in fourth, 6 seconds out of the jersey with two time trialists — current leader Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Bradley Wiggins (High Road) — and a sprinter in front of him.
Other favorites on big teams include Slipstream-Chipotle’s David Zabriskie, 7th at 8 seconds, George Hincapie of High Road, 11th at 10 seconds and CSC’s Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich, both 15 seconds back.
Up in the mix with the dominant teams is Ben Jacques-Maynes of the domestic Bissell squad. He sits in 8th, 9 seconds back after putting in a solid prologue and finishing in the front group on stage 1. Jacques-Maynes finished second last year on the NRC overall, thanks to his time trialing and climbing abilities.
Jacques-Maynes and Toyota-United’s Dominique Rollin are the two men in the top 20 GC not on ProTour or Pro Continental squads.
Stage 2 Sprinter Shake-up
But before the race heads into the monster stage 3 with an HC climb up Mount Hamilton followed by the Cat. 1 Sierra Road climb, riders face another day for the sprinters.
Stage 2 starts with one of the most significant climbs of the race. Beginning 12 miles from the start, Trinity Road’s ascent and tricky descent will shake things up, as will a few following climbs. But from mile 55 to the finish at mile 116, the riders will enjoy a steady flat-to-downhill run into Sacramento.
Slipstream’s fast man Tyler Farrar sits in second overall, just 2 seconds out of the jersey. With two intermediate sprints offering 3-, 2- and 1-second in time bonuses, plus 10, 6 and 4 seconds up for grabs at the finish, Farrar stands a great chance of muscling his way into yellow by tonight.
High Road’s Gerald Ciolek finished second behind the flying JJ Haedo (CSC) on stage 1. Sitting 9 seconds down, Ciolek could also move up through times bonuses. On stage 1, High Road’s plan was to advance Mark Cavendish via intermediate sprints before setting him up for the final sprint. Cavendish was dropped over the Cat. 3 Coleman Valley climb, however, along with fellow sprinters Stuart O’Grady (CSC), Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United) and Mario Cipollini (Rock Racing). As the race wound into Santa Rosa with Cavendish’s group still trailing the leaders, High Road directeur sportif Brian Holm radioed to his troops, “Guys, we go to plan B.”
Plan B — Ciolek — worked out just fine. Whether High Road chooses to put Ciolek into play for the intermediate sprints remains to be seen.
At the finish line in Santa Rosa, everyone saw Quick Step-Innergetic’s big Tom Boonen, but not where they expected to see him. After tangling with Hincapie, who hit the tarmac in the final corner, Boonen was thrown off his line and finished at the very back of the front group. He and his Quick Step teammates will be looking to reverse that finish at the end of the race today in Sacramento.
Juan Jose Haedo may have other plans.
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